What brands can do to help during the coronavirus crisis

BrewDog: started making hand sanitiser amid shortages
BrewDog: started making hand sanitiser amid shortages

Brands should shift their focus from 'How much money can I make?' to 'What can I do to help?'.

While I am writing, I can hear the sounds of two five-year-olds being "taught" by their dad in the kitchen. He is a documentary editor by trade and his teaching experience is limited. But it sounds like it’s going…OK (and Frozen 2 is out on Sky if it all gets too much).

I am working from home. To be working from home after two weeks in my new role as chief strategy officer at Mcgarrybowen UK is not ideal. I am still in the "meeting people and listening a lot" phase.

But, like everyone else in the whole world, I am having to modify my expectations.

So here I am.

This is where I should wheel out words such as "unprecedented" and "worst health crisis in a generation" etc. But lots of people have done this already, so I am going to move quickly on to: so what can we actually do about it?

The first thing is immediately shift our focus, or help our clients to shift their focus, from "How much money can I make?" to "What can I do to help?".

This is clearly not the time for opportunistic price hikes (loo roll, hand wash), nor is it the time for trying to convince people that they should, for example, book a holiday, go to the cinema, order fast food or sit in a coffee shop.

If your core offering has suddenly become irrelevant or redundant, or even if it hasn’t, there will probably be things that you can contribute to an eventual return to the status quo (or whatever it turns out to be) that you can and should be doing instead.

All of us should be abandoning any interest in or preoccupation with "What do we want?" and get back to "What do we all need?".

There are some notable examples of this already.

Premier Inn (I would imagine bookings aren’t looking too pretty) has offered up its hotels as additional hospital space. LMVH has dedicated a number of its factories to manufacturing hand sanitiser. And BrewDog is also turning its hands to hand sanitiser (pictured, above). Of course it is.

I noticed a couple of days ago that Time Out has become Time In (although there’s still the distribution question).

In Japan, Dentsu has partnered a pharmacy client to provide a free online consultation service. And it has helped a food service client provide free food to health workers. 

We’re seeing discounts from Pret a Manger, Leon and others for NHS workers.

And some of the car manufacturers are trying to see if their production lines can quickly be turned into ventilator production lines.

Some companies are providing money. Facebook is giving advertising space and MasterCard has donated to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's vaccine effort. Guinness has committed £1m to trying to keep bars, pubs and their workers on their feet.

You get the idea. You do what you can.

Can Asos deliver paracetamol? Can BT connect the elderly community with the outside world?

I would hope that any company worth its salt is having a good look at itself right now and talking about how it could repurpose, adapt and change what it makes or does to be of greater use to society in these trying times.

As ever, the point is "adapt or die". This pandemic is forcing us to consider the greater good versus self-interest. No bad thing. 

If our products and services aren’t vital or of use in a global pandemic, what else can we make or do? How can we move from our category to another, even if it’s a temporary shift?

Decision-making like this requires confident (and competent) leadership. This will be the ultimate test of many a chief executive and radically changing one's thinking about the end goal (albeit temporarily) could prove too much for many.

Partnership, lateral thinking and working for the greater good will be the things that get us through this.

Be prepared to change category, even if it’s a short-term shift. Think about people and what they are going through above all else and really think about your core capabilities and expertise. 

Above all, be prepared to – at least for a while – suspend your focus on growth and profit.

Because right now and for the foreseeable future, it’s not about what the world can do for us, but about what we can do for the world.

And… action!

Sophie Lewis is chief strategy officer at Mcgarrybowen UK

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